Industry experts have been forecasting and predicting what the Return to Travel would look like post-pandemic. The estimates have been reported during airline, hotel and ground transportation forward guidance during the quarterly investors calls, but no one truly knew how the business travelers themselves would respond. These forecasts did not take into consideration what an increase in demand above these forecasts would put on service delivery across the industry, nor how your travelers would respond to a renewed expectation of their personal service levels.
What we all believe and hope is that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. However, the challenges that are faced by each entity of the travel sector that services your travelers are forced with ongoing and continuous change. It is the combination of unexpected demand, carrier pilot and staffing shortages, increased fuel prices and unmatched weather-related occurrences that have created a knock-on effect to service delivery by the carriers themselves, as well as the travel management companies that support your travelers.
- Per TSA Checkpoints reported by Yahoo! Finance, Travel in the U.S. is just under 2019 levels, with business travel 70% recovered
Image Credit: Yahoo Finance.
- Pilot shortages and recent fuel increases have resulted in Southwest and American Airlines canceling thousands of flights, with SkyWest Airlines to cut service to 29 U.S. cities; and Alaska Airlines to cancel 5% of their routes
- Per United Airlines, “Demand for travel has exceeded the company’s previous expectations”, stating they are confident that they can pass on the increased fuel costs directly to the travelers due to the increased demand, not mentioning what is being done to improve service levels or add additional routes
- Based upon industry travel alert notifications since January 2022, over 52% of the calendar days have had weather-related cancellations surpassing any previous year.
Travel is clearly not the only industry that has been severely impacted by the pandemic and is working through customer concerns. Whether it is the supply chain delays, automotive semiconductors shortages, even the neighborhood restaurant being forced to limit days open, menu options and reservations where walk-ins were the norm, customers have had to make adjustments and understand the challenges each face. So it is with the travel industry as we collectively work to rebound to meet demand and ensure the travelers’ needs are not only met but exceeded.
As your partner, Travel Incorporated is not unique in this challenge, and we offer the following information, not in defense, but rather for your understanding. Meeting the needs of the traveler is changing, as each has their own personal concerns, expectations, and sometimes reactive tendencies that were not part of the pre-pandemic behavioral norm.
We are seeing:
- As a result of the above industry challenges, hold times are significantly increasing with the airlines directly, (example: Platinum loyalty customers holding up to 3 hours with the carrier), Travel Management Companies, including Travel Incorporated, are seeing the extended wait times for individual traveler support
- Travelers are not using the online booking tools for the simple transaction – travelers are feeling a need to call in from a comfort perspective
- Call-in requests for hotel and car only, which could also easily be transacted for those clients using a booking tool – this is a higher cost to our clients, where the same content and availability is in place through Concur
- Length of call averaging 10-12 minutes, in comparison to the 4-6 in pre pandemic levels. This is largely due to less seat availability as a result of the cancellations previously mentioned, requiring extensive search for availability due to the numerous weather related impacts
- Due to extensive airline schedule changes, travelers are immediately reacting to itinerary changes that are potentially weeks away wanting to reconfirm they have a seat on the new itinerary
- Concur Travel should be used for modifying, canceling or booking any or all components to the travel itinerary. The content is the same within the tool, as it is synched with the GDS and our travel consultant proprietary desktop application. Your travelers can also cancel any part of their trip by clicking on the email itinerary sent directly from Travel Incorporated.
- Unused Tickets are automatically reviewed as part of TI’s 100% quality control file finishing. Whether the booking was made via Concur, or through a consultant, if there is a qualifying unused ticket available, we will apply it without the traveler engagement. Therefore, your travelers do not always need to call in to reclaim an unused ticket.
- Implement Executive Services for your VIP travelers and Executive Administrators to assist with priority services.
- Travel plans that are not time sensitive should be done either online or via email. Encourage and educate your travelers to utilize email for changes that are a few weeks/months out, or to simply reconfirm an aspect of their itinerary. This will assist someone who is in an emergency situation to be promptly serviced.
Travel Incorporated continues to utilize our internal Travel Technology Solutions division to provide more highly useful self-service and quality control technology, including self-service cancellation directly from the eItinerary email. We started gearing up for the return to travel in July of 2021 as part of our aggressive hiring initiatives and continue to do so having brought on over 25% additional, experienced corporate travel consultants to service your travelers. We understand there is frustration, we understand the need for excellence in service, and we are committed to being part of our mutual success.
We are grateful for your continued partnership, understanding and patience through this evolving rebound to business travel.